Sunday, 18 December 2016

An oath for oafs

Sajid Javid simply loves the idea of an oath of allegiance to British values! He is all excited after reading Dame Louise Casey's report on social cohesion because it recommends public office-holders take such an oath. Elected officials, civil servants and council workers would be expected to take this oath, should it ever become a requirement, according to the report.

But Sajid has taken an already scarily Orwellian idea one step further and said that all migrants, not just those seeking UK citizenship, should take the oath. 

Yep, he is mad about the oath. Sajid would rather talk about this oath instead of, oh, I dunno, his own decision to vote against landlords requiring their properties to be fit for human habitation while he is an actual landlord. But, hey, letting hard-working people pay through the nose to live in squalor is clearly a British value! Am I right, Sajid? Jolly good show, old chap! 

Hell, he is so keen to advocate for an oath that he has even started spitballing a few ideas for it. What a guy! I am so glad that as a permanent resident of Britain, owner of property in Britain, married to a British citizen, working, paying my taxes and voting in Britain, that Sajid is here to tell me how I can best direct my loyalty.

Sajid said the oath might include phrases such as "tolerating the views of others even if you disagree with them" as well as "believing in freedom of speech". OK, fine. So I have the freedom to say I find the vile and racist rantings of, say, Anjem Choudary or Jayda Fransen are utterly repulsive but I still must "tolerate their views"? I have zero tolerance for racism. If I had to take this oath, would I really mean it? What would happen to me if I publicly said I didn't tolerate the crap people like Choudary and Fransen come out with it? I'd be exercising my freedom of speech, as per the oath, but breaking the bit about tolerance.

"Freedom of religion" was another of Sajid's helpful suggestions. Yep, you can believe in whatever deity you like but what about freedom from religion? I am unimpressed, for example, that certain politicians voted against marriage equality with their religious beliefs being a factor in their decision. I find that sort of church-state crossover hard to tolerate - whoops, there I go again, being intolerant! Indeed, while we're talking about religion, would I be breaking the oath if I dared suggest that it is high time the Church of England was disestablished? If I say so, am I breaking the bit in Sajid's imaginary oath about believing in freedom of religion?

Sajid also suggested "freedom from abuse". If he means physical abuse, we already have laws against assault, rape and murder. These are laws everyone is expected to obey, whether or not they are a public official or not, and regardless of whether they were born here or came here from somewhere else. 

Or does he mean verbal abuse? If so, there are already laws against hate speech and death threats? Do the anti-hate speech laws contravene the "freedom of speech" part of the oath? Honestly, Sajid, this is a minefield! It's almost as if you're making this up as you're going along rather than thinking it through rationally.

Then Sajid said "a belief in equality, democracy and the democratic process" should be chucked into the oath which, the more I think about it, the more it starts looking like having about as much credibility as a pinky promise. Sajid, we currently have an openly misogynistic homophobe on the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in the form of Conservative MP Philip Davies. This is a man who this week tried to filibuster a bill to ratify the Istanbul Convention because men are victims of domestic violence too - even though the convention covers violence against men and women. If only there was a senior woman in the Conservative Party with the power to prevent ridiculous appointments to committees...

As for a belief in "democracy and the democratic process", sure, I can get on board with that. My belief in democracy extends to believing that the monarchy is undemocratic and has no real place in a modern society and that the House of Lords needs urgent reform. I am, apparently, free to say this but does the oath cover democracy and the democratic process as it currently exists or is there some wiggle room on that one, Sajid?

And finally, he suggested "respect for the law, even if you think the law is an ass". So this oath would mean that we must respect all laws at all times, no matter what? Blind loyalty for the win, eh Sajid? What if a public official who had to swear this oath found that stupid laws made their job impossible or compromised safety or would put a vulnerable person at risk? How would swearing to this part of the oath help whistleblowers who expose things that may well be legal but are morally wrong or dangerous or just plain ineffective? 

Sorry, Sajid, you're going to have to work much harder to convince me that this idea for an oath is not just creepy and chilling, but also that it is not completely and utterly useless. Would this sort of lip service really help different groups in communities come together or get along better? Would this prevent a single act of terrorism? Nope. And nope. 

What I do know is that I have lived here long enough to know this sort of forced patriotism, this ridiculous, ill-thought-out jingoism is just a stupid distraction by Sajid Javid and if it ever happened, it would not do a damn thing to improve anything.


Photography by Karen Arnold

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The lynch mob mentality is back. But did it ever really go away?

Gina Miller has received death threats, rape threats and utterly appalling sexist and racist abuse. This week a 55-year-old man from Swindon has been arrested over threats he is alleged to have made towards her.

And some people who disagree with Miller's role in using the court system to challenge the government on the way Article 50 should be triggered for Britain to the leave the European Union are actually apologising for the people who have made these threats. 

"What did she expect? She was asking for it!" has been the tone of the apologists. The same mentality that blames rape victims for their own attacks is now being applied to a woman who has every right to mount this challenge to Theresa May's increasingly useless government in regard to how we should leave the EU. 

Bear in mind the court challenge is not about keeping Britain in the EU, it is about putting the vote before parliament before triggering Article 50. Many Brexiters, despite banging on for months about sovereignty before the referendum, are now terrified of a ruling by Britain's independent judiciary that would mean our democratically elected members of parliament vote on how we should best proceed with the most monumental change to Britain's place in the world in our lifetimes. Miller and her fellow challengers are calling for the very model of British sovereignty to be used to start proceedings. Therefore it would appear that for many Brexiters, they only like sovereignty when it suits them, or they don't actually know what sovereignty means. 

In short, Gina Miller has - for making the case for Britain's exit from the EU to go through parliament - received death and rape threats. And people are saying she should have expected this.

No. Nobody should expect death and rape threats for having a different point of view. Miller should expect robust debate, certainly, but never death or rape threats. That is absolutely disgusting. In the year when Jo Cox MP was murdered for having a different political opinion to her killer, it is quite right that death and rape threats are taken seriously. We now know there are people out there who are barbaric enough to act on such threats.

Over in the United States, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, has also received death threats. And I have seen people with similar political views to my own take the same line elements of the political right have taken in the UK, that Conway is also deserving of death threats.

No. She is not. I am pretty sure I disagree with Conway on most issues, I do not see her a a feminist role model for helping get a self-confessed sexual predator into power, but do I think she deserves death threats? Absolutely not. She should expect to be challenged on everything she says, she should expect to be pilloried on Saturday Night Live, but she should not expect anyone to express an interest in killing her. 

When you know someone might want to kill you, it is absolutely terrifying. It is distressing, it erodes your trust in other people, it means you never quite feel safe. It is an awful punishment, a cruel psychological torture, and certainly not a punishment to fit the crime of having a different point of view. It is quite right that any civilised legal system takes death threats seriously.

The referendum result and the Trump victory in the US seem to have emboldened pitchfork wavers on both sides of the Atlantic.

But I am now starting to wonder if the pitchfork wavers ever went away. Are human beings in general even as civilised as we like to think we are? Multiple genocides have taken place since the world was shocked by the events under Adolf Hitler in WWII. And death penalty abolition is a relatively recent phenomenon in the context of centuries of history.

In Saudi Arabia and Iran, people are still executed in public, creating a repugnant spectacle. Thirty-one US states still have the death penalty. Nearly two-thirds of the world's countries still have the death penalty. The last person to be executed by guillotine in France was in 1977. In Britain, the death penalty was abolished in 1965, and in 1973 for Northern Ireland. 

When the death penalty was abolished in Britain, it took immense courage for members of parliament to do so in the face of much public opposition. After centuries of British history, in which so many people were lost to hangings, burnings at the stake, beheadings and obscenely imaginative torture, 1965 and 1973 marked a new era of modern civilisation. Our EU membership depends on not having the death penalty. Once we leave the EU, I would not be at all surprised to see renewed calls for a return to capital punishment. The possibility, no matter how remote, of Britain enjoying the civilising factor of no capital punishment for less than 100 years before it is swept back into the law books on a tide generated by a lynch mob mentality is sickening. 

And when we start accepting that outspoken people, and particularly right now, outspoken women, should expect death threats for daring to express polarising opinions in public, we regress as a society. We start picking away at the threads that hold society together, the threads that keep us civilised, that prevent us from turning into brutes and savages. 

Right now, those threads are more delicate than ever before.

Photo by Dan Lipinski/Flickr